Huawei Mate 20 Lite review: This is not the mate you need

Huawei may have announced its latest flagship processor, the Kirin 980 during IFA 2018 in Berlin, boasting considerable gains in performance, power efficiency and added AI abilities, but a handset sporting the mid-range Kirin 710 processor was also launched around the same time. Called the Mate 20 Lite, the handset sports a 6.3-inch FHD+ notched display with the Kirin 710 processor, dual camera setups front and back, a big 3,750mAh battery, and a price tag of £379.

Huawei has been kind enough to send one over for us to take a closer look at so join us after the break for our review of the Mate 20 Lite.

 

Design

The Mate 20 Lite may lie at the bottom of the line-up for the Mate 20 series, but you wouldn’t think so judging by its appearance nor how it feels in hand. With its premium all-glass design, Huawei’s Mate 20 Lite belies the fact that it’s a mid-range handset that costs £379. Despite having a 6.3-inch display, the phone sits comfortably in hand thanks to its rounded edges and 7.6mm thickness. Featuring an 81% screen-to-body ratio, edge-to-edge display, and thin bezels, the Mate 20 Lite makes the most of its real estate. As with most glass phones, you’ll likely want to put a case on the Mate 20 Lite to keep it in good condition.

The dual rear cameras and front speaker reside in the shallow notch on the display that is easily disabled via the Settings. The notch itself would appear to be under-utilized but at least it isn’t a chunky as the one seen on the Pixel 3 XL.

The centrally located vertical strip on the rear panel houses the dual cameras and the speedy fingerprint reader while the bottom edge of the device features a 3.5mm audio jack, USB Type-C charging port, and a single speaker chamber.

Finally, Mate 20 Lite follows Huawei’s usual configuration with its power button sitting below the volume controls on the right-hand side of the phone, as seen below.

Hardware

AnnouncedAugust 2018
ReleasedSeptember 2018
SoftwareEMUI 8.2, Android Oreo 8.1
Display6.3-Inch LTPS display, 2340 x 1080 resolution (FHD+), 19:5:9 aspect ratio, 409ppi
ProcessorHiSilicon Kirin 710 Octa-core processor 4 x A73@2.2GHz + 4 x A53@1.7GHz
Memory4GB
Gaming FeaturesGPU Turbo, Game Suite, Game Acceleration Mode
Storage64GB, MicroSD card support
Primary rear camera20MP F/1.8, AI, AI assisted composition, Super Slow-Mo
Secondary rear camera2MP, Depth of Field,
Primary Front Camera24MP Fusion Pixel, F/2.0 +2MP Secondary front camera
SecondryFront Camera2MP Depth of Field
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz), 802.11 a/n/ac (5GHz), USB 2.0, GPS/AGPS/Glonass
Audio JackYes
SensorsFingerprint (rear), Digital Compass, Ambient light sensor, Gyroscope, Gravity sensor
Battery3,750mAh (non-removable), USB Type-C, Fast Charging
Dimensions158.3 x 75.3 x 7.6mm
ColorsSapphire Blue, Black, Platinum Gold

Performance

The 6.3-inch IPS display has the FHD+ resolution (2340 x 1080) which is pretty much the standard at this sort of price point. It’s plenty bright and enough for use when outdoors and colors are both vibrant and accurate enough with good levels of contrast. While the display may seem a little vivid by default, you can change the temperature in the Display Settings to something a little cooler. The panel on the Mate 20 Lite is great for viewing content such as Netflix or YouTube on, the big display and slim bezels make for an enjoyable experience.

As mentioned earlier, you can disable the notch easily enough by navigating to the Display settings; there is a caveat to keep in mind though. Because the panel uses IPS technology instead of OLED, the display areas to the left and right of it don’t quite match the same hue of black of the notch when you choose to hide it.

In everyday usage, the phone is as quick as you like, opening apps and games up without an issue. As with the Honor 8X which also runs on the Kirin 710 chipset, the processor begins to show its limitations with games such as PUBG which automatically limits the handset to ‘Medium’ detail levels. In terms of sheer performance, the Kirin 970-equipped Honor Play outshines the Mate 20 Lite.

The sound is as you might expect from a mid-range handset, the single speaker gets pretty loud and is fine for hands-free calls and the odd YouTube video, but don’t expect Boom Sound quality.

We’ve run the Mate 20 Lite through the 3D Mark benchmarking app (Antutu and Geekbench refused to load up at all for some reason) and compared it with the Honor Play and Honor 8X.

Benchmarking AppsHuawei Mate 20 LiteHonor 8XHonor Play
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme9529562036
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme (Vulkan)112511233356

Battery

As ever with Huawei, battery life with the Mate 20 Lite is outstanding. Thanks to the mid-range Kirin 710 octa-core processor beating at its heart and the 3,750mAh battery, the Mate 20 Lite moves effortlessly from morning to night without a hint of battery anxiety. Running Netflix with the display on 50% brightness for an hour used 14% battery life. You can easily get a full day of usage out of the Mate 20 Lite with the battery hovering around the 30% level at midnight. To make the battery last even longer, you can engage the Power Saving and Ultra Power-Saving modes, as well as the Smart Resolution function that lowers the pixel count down to 720p. While Huawei’s SuperCharge technology would have been a welcome addition at this price point, Fast Charging charges the battery up from 0-100% in around two hours.

Software

The Mate 20 Lite runs Huawei’s EMUI 8.2 running on top of Android 8.1 Oreo. It’s a Marmite situation, in that EMUI is intolerable for some users, while for many it is perfectly fine. EMUI is no longer the garish monster that it was four years ago, and is much lighter, leaner, and user-friendly nowadays. Settings are easy to navigate, and overall EMUI 8.2 is much easier on the eye. There is more than a touch of bloatware pre-installed on the Mate 20 Lite, though, in the form of apps such as Booking.com, Amazon Assistant, Netflix, eBay, and some non-descript games. Fortunately, you can uninstall all of the bloatware; it’s just a shame that they were present in the first place.

EMUI 8.2 has some useful features such as the ability to swipe down on the ultra-quick fingerprint sensor on the rear panel to bring down the phone’s notification tray and the ability to configure how many columns and rows you want on the home screen. The App Twin feature is an excellent tool for separating work and personal life with the ability to run duplicate instances of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger.

Something to note is that the EMUI software on the Mate 20 Lite seemed a little glitchy, in that I experienced numerous apps crashing that sometimes required the phone to be rebooted. This instability in the software will hopefully be addressed in a future firmware update.

Camera

While the Mate 20 Lite is outperformed in the hardware department by the Honor Play with its Kirin 970 processor, the Mate 20 Lite strikes back in the camera department. Armed with dual rear cameras, a 20MP main lens with F/1.8 aperture and a 2MP secondary sensor for measuring depth, the Mate 20 Lite produces excellent imagery, for a mid-range phone. There is, however, a noticeable level of noise that appears when shooting indoors or in low-light conditions but the resulting pics don’t suffer from blur. There’s a good level of detail when taking photos at night, and while they don’t match up to the Mate 20 Pro, they are usually of high enough quality for posting on social media.

The camera app itself is easy to use; there are a bunch of options to choose from when snapping pics and there’s very little shutter lag, which makes it easy to take multiple photos on the spin. As a Huawei phone, it’s to be expected that AI will feature in the camera app, adjusting brightness levels and making colors more vivid as it detects the current scenario. The built-in AI in the rear camera is capable of detecting up to 22 categories such as food, sunset, blue sky, greenery, etc. By comparison, the AI in the front camera can detect seven different scenarios. Keep in mind that the AI feature isn’t perfect, it can produce over-saturated colors that aren’t entirely representative of the subject and you can often achieve a more natural result by turning it off.

Closing

In conclusion, the Mate 20 Lite offers a premium design that disguises its mid-range nature, outstanding battery life, and good photography chops. It packs a punch for its price of £379, and as a mid-range phone that I really enjoyed using (apart from the odd crashing app), I would generally have no hesitation in recommending the Mate 20 Lite.

But.

If the Mate 20 Lite had been powered by the Kirin 970, it would have been easy to recommend it as a mid-range champion in the segment below the OnePlus 6. Instead, it is overwhelmed by the similarly priced Honor 10 with its added firepower and the much cheaper and more powerful Honor Play at £279. It’s an example of the world’s second-largest handset maker taking a shotgun approach to its manufacturing strategy to see what sticks, much like Samsung did a few years ago. At some point, Huawei is going to have to rein in its instincts to avoid launching mid-range handsets with similar specifications every other month so it can avoid cannibalizing its own sales. It might also be an idea for Huawei and Honor to begin working together as allies so as to avoid stepping on each other’s toes instead of viewing each other as competitors and wasting resources.

Is it worth spending the extra £100 on the admittedly stylish and capable Mate 20 Lite over the more powerful Honor Play just for the modern glass design that you’ll likely hide away in a case? Only you know the answer to that question.

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About the Author: Peter Holden

He's been an Android fan ever since owning an HTC Hero, with the Dell Streak being his first phablet. He currently carries a Pixel 2 XL, Huawei P20 Pro, and a Huawei MediaPad M5 (8.4) in his pockets and thinks nothing of lugging a 17-inch laptop around in his backpack. When not immersed in the world of Android and gadgets, he's an avid sports fan, and like all South Africans, he loves a good Braai (BBQ).